On Friday, June 16th Wisconsin's beloved Eaux Claires festival returned in full force, with its signature artist collaborations, surprise sets, and art installations involving crowd participation. Although there were many highlights, Friday undoubtedly belonged to Francis (of Francis and The Lights). Read on to find out what surprises day one entailed, which traditions carried on, and how Francis stole the show with not one, but four appearances.
Early Arrivers Got a Special Show at The Creek
If you're an EXC veteran, you know that the formal schedule is never really the full list of all of the performances, and that live collaborations and guest performers are what make Eaux Claires so special. So naturally, going into day 1, the 12:15 slot on The Creek Stage labeled as "People Mixtape Vol. 1" sparked some curiosity. Sure enough, at 11:45 the app sent out a notification that the performance would include Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, the curators of the fest. (Side note: if you read our preview of Eaux Claires, you know that the app is a must.) The intimate set for the early festival arrivers featured what Vernon and Dessner described as a "work in progress," but the performance went over so smoothly. Francis also joined the band for the first half of the set, disappearing towards the end for a reason that was also revealed in the app notifications.
Francis Gave A Dance Lesson
As noted earlier, the app sent out another notification before the end of the People Mixtape performance, alerting festival goers that Francis would be teaching dance at The Decorum stage at 1 PM. The roughly 45 minute performance featured an introduction with the house dance team of the festival, delivering a moving, beautiful, and entertaining opening number. Following up their opening moves, Francis himself took the stage to many cheers to teach the crowd the "Friends" and "May I Have This Dance" dances. The crowd loved it and happy obliged after Francis instructed them to try the moved featured in these songs. This performance represents a perfect example of why Eaux Claires stands out from any other festival...the spur of the moment, unique experience added some unexpected fun into many of the festival-goers days.
This Is The Kit Teased Their New Album
The Bristol-born, Paris-based This Is The Kit provided some soothing early afternoon tunes on the Flamebeaux stage. During their set, the frontwoman Kate Stables mentioned the band's upcoming album Moonshine Freeze will be out July 7th, and they performed some of the new tracks like "Bulletproof" and the title track "Moonshine Freeze." Aaron Dessner also joined the band onstage, as he had produced their previous record and helped out by playing on the upcoming record. If you missed out of their brilliant performance yesterday, catch them again today at 2PM on the Oxbeaux Stage.
Francis Asked The Crowd To Have This Dance
As the Eaux Claires evening set in, the crowd got ready for a full Francis and the Lights performance back on The Creek stage. By far one of the most packed performances of the day, the set easily could have taken place on one of the main stages, but the more intimate setting made for an incredible experience. Although the set started off slow, with Francis sitting at his keyboard, he got things moving about 15 minutes in, working the entire stage, which includes two ramps on the side. Last year, Francis closed out the festival, debuting "Friends" with Justin Vernon and a surprise appearance from Chance The Rapper. This year, he brought up his choreographer to the stage, and the crowd still went wild for the viral song. Closing out his set, Francis played his other crowd favorite "May I Have This Dance," asking some lucky audience members if they'd like to join him on stage. Definitely a once in a lifetime experience, the impromptu backup dancers were all smiles when the song finished. Francis was such a hit with his overflowing crowd that they even demanded an encore and he obliged.
Justin Vernon Got Pissed Off About Balloons
Following Francis's set, everyone rushed to the main stage, Lake Eaux Lune, to see the set officially labeled "Bon Iver Presents John Prine & The American Songbook." The nearly 2 hour set featured all sorts of live collaborations, surprise guests, rain...and balloons. Towards the start of the set after Jenny Lewis and Mountain Man had joined Justin Vernon onstage, Vernon called out the many balloons floating around in the crowd, admitting that they were pissing him off, if he's being honest. Despite his annoyance with the balloons, Vernon continued to deliver a magical set with the likes of The Staves, Field Report, This Is The Kit, Spank Rock...and John Prine himself. Although it started to downpour towards the end of the set, nothing could put a damper of this special performance.
Chance Closed Out The Night With Friends
Last year, Chance attended Eaux Claires via sneak attack, showing up unannounced for the very end of Francis and the Lights' set, where we saw Chance, Francis, and Justin Vernon perform "Friends" (including the epic dance moves). This year, Chance came in full force, with his backing band The Social Experiment and a big-scale production. Just about halfway through his performance, Chance flipped the script on last year's performance of "Friends," this time inviting Francis and Justin to join his set for the performance. Before we witnessed this Eaux Claires tradition, Francis first joined Chance to perform their remix collaboration of Francis's song "May I Have This Dance," followed by "Summer Friends." After his guests left the stage, Chance continued his massive show, which included confetti during his hit "No Problem." The most special part of Chance's show was that despite the huge crowd and full blown production backing him, he performed graciously and humbly.
Stay tuned for Day 2 highlights and a full gallery of all the highlights from the festival. As always, follow along on our social media for live updates throughout the day.
Word and Photos by Rachel Zyzda